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Self

Living with Anorexia Part 1

A disorder is a disruption of normal functions. The course of my thirty years battling eating disorders included anorexia, bulimia, binge eating, diet pill addiction, and exercise addiction. When I battled anorexia, I defined myself as having and being an eating disorder. Living with anorexia is like waking up in a dark fishbowl whereby everywhere you turned heard a voice reminding of you of your low value and worthlessness. Living with these voices is further aggravated by the fact that no one else hears them nor understands why you cannot crawl out of the fishbowl.

I was hospitalized for anorexia when I was fourteen-years old and weighed 98 pounds and stood 5’6” tall. Given the rate I was disintegrating, the doctors estimated I had three more weeks to live had I not received treatment. Three weeks after admission the insurance company kicked me out of treatment, who did not approve covering payments any longer.

Many who suffer from eating disorders yearn for normalcy. Being normal means many things, including not thinking about food all the time, not obsessing over what you eat, when you eat it, and how much of it you eat. The work put into healing from an eating disorder is a mental, emotional, and physical feat. As soon as I had come to terms with the fact that I did suffer from anorexia, I wanted to be done with it.

Those who suffer from eating disorders often feel “fat”. For me, feeling or being fat meant losing control over the body I desired, which prompted me to diet in the first place. Being fat meant I was ugly, plain, and not special. I measured my worth by being able to first wrap my hands around the top of each thigh to see how much my thumbs overlapped. I was eventually able to wrap my hands around my waist and measure how many centimeters apart the tips of my fingers were from each other. When I was normal, none of these thoughts or obsessions occurred. When I was normal, I was able to eat a snack and not feel guilty about it.

I vividly remember thinking about food all of the time. Even if I did not want to eat it, it consumed my thoughts. The moment I woke up, I asked myself what would I allow myself to eat for breakfast. Once breakfast was finished, I asked myself what I would allow myself to have for lunch, and so on. I ate during ‘safe’ windows of time. I delayed eating as often as I could so I would not worry about developing a hunger pang during an unexpected timeframe and not know how to address it. To compound the struggle, I internalized this pain and did not know how to talk about it with my parents, who lived in separate homes.

When not thinking about food, I studied my body in the mirror picking apart every centimeter of flesh. I never saw myself as thin. My ribs and pelvic bone protruded from my body while I stood in a relaxed state. Still, though, I thought this skeletal reflection was not good enough. I remember panic settling in if fingertips did not have as much overlap around my thigh than as they did the day before.

Having a fleshy, rounded appearance meant I had lost self-control. Having body fat meant I was being a good girl. Being as thin as possible made me stand out and get attention, even though I hated that kind of attention.  Every hour my thoughts also focused on self-hatred, fear, and not wanting to lose control. This eating disorder was such a giant, it completely stomped and shredded my ‘know how’ of being a ‘normal’ teenage girl. Whereas I used to love being with friends, doing things with my family, and being at school, now the eating disorder wiped any positive memory of those experiences clean and left a dank residue in every corner of my mind.

I meticulously kept track of everything I ate and measured every ounce of food with measuring cups to ensure not a scrap of extra food made it past my lips. I considered food an entity, not a source of nourishment. It either did something to me (fed me) or I would do something to it (withhold it or binge and purge). In either scenario there was a perceived abuse of power where food was in the winner’s corner after each round.

I called the food I ate publically ‘safe foods’. Those were the foods I trusted calorically and did not fear they would make me fat. Many who struggle have ‘safe foods’.  If I ate foods beyond my assumed safety list, I obsessed over the added calories consumed and instantly assumed my clothes would not fit the same the next day. The combination of limited caloric intake plus compulsive thoughts about food often led to late night binges. I documented the struggles in a diary entry after returning home from a visit with my father and stepmother during summer vacation.

July 26, 1991
Dear Diary –
It is almost 2 AM. I can hardly sleep. My summer sucks. I went to Dad’s for 2 weeks and I was nagged every day by not eating enough, too skinny, etc. I really want to be able to think, eat, and live like a normal fifteen-year-old. It’s so hard to see the day that I will again be normal. Today I tried to plan my meals with calcium and protein. It worked until I had a major binge on crackers, cheesecake, ice cream, pound cake, and more. Maybe I can’t sleep because my stomach hurts. I wish I had more control over these dumb binges. I wish I could tell mom, but she’s not going to stop buying ice cream and crackers! Dr. S told me yesterday that I binge because my body weight is low. I weight in the upper 90s or low 100s. I don’t think I’m fat but I probably will be because of this binge.  – Anorexia sucks – Dr. S thinks my anorexia has to do with guys, school, and not wanting to be a good girl. But how can I change that?

Later – Brandi

Categories
Self

The Inner Critics

Have you ever known the frustration of feeling alone while being isolated within four walls with people who think they know you? 

The problem is you are not alone, and you are not a singular being, as the voices in your head will not shut up. I know these inner critics make life in isolation a living hell. If these voices are like the ones I used to live with, they say you have little worth, you are ugly, you are fat, and you are stupid. When I lived with these voices, I found the more attention I gave them, the stronger they got. I was able to evict them for good after letting them live rent-free for thirty years when I suffered through a range of eating disorders and body dysmorphic vision.

I now live with peace, kindness, and authority over my mind and heart.

The first step in breaking free was to believe I was capable of doing so. Through counseling and journaling, I worked to imagine my life without always thinking about food. I had to imagine what my life would be like in five years if I did not get better, which seemed like a horror story. How much more anxiety could I take when at social functions with food? How much more restrictive could I be in eating “healthy” during the day only to eat without boundaries at night? The idea of these behaviors escalating was too stressful to bear. So, I worked to imagine what my life would be like without them, which appeared to be only an empty sky, but it was a light blue and sunny sky.  

I turned to God for His strength, His vision of me, and His plan for me. Knowing we have a loving God, I knew He did not design my life to be in pain and suffering. I worked to put on His glasses to see myself as He sees me.

With this renewed vision, the second step was becoming intentional with thought control. If an inner voice addressed an action or thought, I stopped to ask myself, “Is this something my future self would honor? Is this something a healthy person asks or says?” Once I was able to identify good voices from bad voices, I told the bad ones I did not want to serve them any more. Taking control of my thoughts and behaviors required trust and strength in my Savior and myself.

The road to completely break from the voices’ bond took several years. It took a lot of trust in believing by adopting rational eating and exercise behaviors my body would not expand like a balloon. This meant I had to understand how the body works to metabolize to release my stress when eating new foods. I studied my family tree and recalled the shapes of the women in my lineage so I could accept my DNA. My genetics determined my body shape before I was born. I had to work to find balance within my day. I found new activities I enjoyed, such as reading books, getting back to journaling, and meeting new people. I needed to fill my mind and heart with other positive things so the voices had no more room to live.

If you struggle to silence inner bullies, have faith and know you can be better. You don’t need to live with this insanity. The road to recovery is not easy, but the outcome is always worth it.  Please feel free to contact me or comment below and tell me what part of my story affected you most. Do you battle with critical voices? Do you also feel confused and alone in your struggle to live with peace?

Categories
Self

I Saw Myself Today

I got to meet myself during a hot yoga class tonight. For the first time in 44 years, I saw myself as an experienced version of my younger self instead of a failed version of my expectations. Let me tell you, it was a powerful experience.

As a busy wife and mother I split my time between three jobs, driving kids around, and spending quality time with my husband. Very little time is spent with myself, no less looking at myself. The most time I spend with my reflection is a collective ten minutes a day toweling off after a shower and brushing my teeth. As a fitness instructor my back is turned to the mirrors so I can lead my classes and correct their postures to ensure safety. I encourage them to see their reflections to ensure proper alignment, but I only see my reflection a fraction of the time.

In hot yoga I am forced to stare at me as I lock eyes with my reflection.  Between postures I study my posture as I absorb the teacher’s instructions.  On this night I wore a close fitting tank top to class instead of my usual loosely fitting tee shirt. For the first time I saw the curvature of my upper body muscles, which impressed me.

The muscles reminded me of all the things I do with my arms:

Hug my family who mean more to me than anything or anybody

Communicate my design direction at work through art and emails

Groom my cats who teach my boys how to love other species

Clean my house which I own with tremendous gratitude

Exercise programs that I both design and follow in celebration of my health

Once I saw my upper body, I saw my face, then my collarbone and finally the shape of my frame. Instead of seeing these components with an instant negative retort (‘you look tired’, ‘you look curvier than usual today’) I saw my younger self as an experienced adult who has overcome challenges. The challenges no longer left a mark on me.

All my life I saw myself as an aesthetic and never honored my invisible talents, I compared my reality to what I saw of others and chalked it up to their reality was better than mine. Mine needed more work until I could fully accept and appreciate it.

I was kind, but did not have as many friends as others

I was smart, but did not have straight A’s

I was funny, but nowhere near as affable as others

I never saw myself as pretty – ever

I had nice clothes, but my body did not fill them out as it should

Seeing myself felt like running into an old friend with whom I wanted to get reacquainted.

Reader, I encourage you to drop the criticism and start seeing yourself as a younger self with years of wisdom, memories, and experiences.

Celebrate your strengths, appreciate your lineage, and enjoy your resilient and beautiful body.

Comments about how you overcome negative self-talk and appreciate body evolution are welcome below!

Categories
Self

Don’t Be My Valentine

I lost my first true love 38 years ago today… as a first grader on February 14, 1982. 

His name was Rich, and he and I were in the same first-grade class at Longwood Elementary. The closest I got to Rich outside of school was a play date at my house. I remember it like it was yesterday. His mother stood behind him in his grey tee shirt and white shorts as she dropped him off for our 60 minute-long play date. I thought he looked so cute, in a heartthrob kind of way, and welcomed him into my home. Instead of playing and conversing with toys, I gave him a tour of each room in my house, including the back yard, “and here’s our porch…. And here’s our backyard,” as Rich smiled and said, ‘uh-huh.’ I was so nervous. I suppose the idea of possibly being bored with me during play was too much for me to bear. 

A few months later, my mom and step-dad told my sisters and me we were moving to a new city for a job promotion they received. Our last day of school before our move was on Valentine’s Day. I used this farewell as my chance to open my heart to Rich in my Valentine’s Day card for him.  

I wrote ‘I love you’ and signed my name on his card, then decorated his envelope with as many heart stickers as I could. Like most children, I meticulously assigned each Valentine inside my collection to each classmate, careful to not seem too lovey-dovey to those I merely liked. I had more cards than classmates in that year’s box, so I also made cards for the cafeteria ladies who smiled at me daily.

The moment to distribute cards arrived after lunchtime. I slowly pulled each envelope out of my bag to read the name of its intended recipient than responsibly put it in that person’s collection envelope. My mother popped in soon after we started to tell me it was time to leave. Panic and sadness gripped my heart, as I needed more time to review each name and distribute them correctly, including Rich’s. Mom told me there was no time to spare, and I had to hurry up, so I did. 

I rushed and tried to get the rest of my cards out to kids I would never see again. I told Mom I also had to give them to the cafeteria ladies of yesterday before we left, which she allowed. I ran to the cafeteria and gave them each their cards as they cleaned up after the final lunch shift. After I handed out the last one, I caught a glimpse of pink and purple heart stickers encrusted around the edges land in one woman’s hand. My eyes widened as I had realized I had given Rich the card intended for a cafeteria worker, and she had received an announcement of my love. 

Time was over. There was no chance to fix the matter, as we had to grab my things and go. I left with sadness for the friends I’d never see again and the truth I had wanted to release to Rich but did not.

Being my first childhood crush, I held the memory of Rich in the back of my mind throughout my childhood and adolescence. I wondered what it would have felt like for him to have known how I felt about him and asked myself if he felt the same way about me. Not only did I remember how I felt around him, I remember how I felt about myself with him: insecure, scared of rejection.

In the course of one of my seasonal trips to Dad’s house in Orlando during my freshman year of college, I spent some time with my lifelong friend, Ann. Ann and I were in freshmen college and able to drive around town. Ann arranged for us to hang out with Rich at his house. I should have handled this like a cool and confident young woman, but I regressed into an insecure little girl given the high esteem I held Rich in my mind and heart. 

I bit my lip and nervously proceeded to spend the evening with the grown-up, muscular Rich. Rich still lived in the same house as he did when we shared a first-grade classroom. His childhood photos lined the hallway walls, which led to his bedroom. I felt like my former little girl self as I walked into his bedroom with my friend to talk about what our lives were like twelve years since our last encounter. I could not bring myself to confess my childhood feelings of infatuation, fearing rejection, and humility.

Then the direction of the night changed after thirty minutes when Rich showed us photos of his Spring Break as a judge of ‘best butt of the beach’ contest. I faked my pride for his ability to look at rows of women’s butts robed in thong bikinis, according to the photographs. I was turned off. Showing my butt was not something I chose to do for fun, nor did I anticipate it would be something he would be excited to share. Rich then asked if we wanted to smoke marijuana with him. 

Ann and I did not smoke cigarettes or marijuana, so we declined. While I should have been grateful for him opening up and being comfortable enough around us to share his older interests, I left the evening disappointed. I had the ridiculous notion that our evening together had been like the playdate was twelve years prior: innocent, informative, and joyful. Suddenly the ‘Boy Ryan’ I had locked in my memory dissipated and was gone. I unfairly (and unrealistically) thought he would have aged with similar interests and core values as myself. I had been holding on to a memory, which created an expectation that did not get fulfilled. I brought this lesson into adulthood. 

Often times, memories of feelings, not people,drive expectations in relationships. When your partner’s behavior shifts and relationship dynamics change, do you re-assess and live in the reality of your relationship? Or, do you resist evolution and hold on to the initial feelings and experiences enjoyed in the beginning? 

People grow physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually at different rates and directions. What matters most is how receptive our values connect to theirs. When core values shift in a degree of disconnect, it is time to move on with peace and gratitude for the experiences. 

I believe it is better left to the imagination of what never was rather than face a personal disappointment in the relationship not living up to your unrealistic expectations. 

Categories
Self

Mr. Good Enough

I can remember a lot about my life as it was the year 2000. I was in my second year of graduate school, lived with my boyfriend in a 2-bedroom apartment (one bedroom was an office), and I was the oldest Backstreet Boys fan in the world. At least, that is how I felt given the waves of teenage girls seen on MTV whenever they had an appearance. The first Backstreet Boys album released during my final year of college in 1997 won my appreciation due to some of their catchy singles. Their second album, Millennium, earned my business and heart. Released in 1999, I played it everyday driving to and from school and while exercising with my Discman wrapped around my waist in my Tune Belt. I not only loved their music, but I also loved THEM. No, I was obsessed with them. I tuned into any television program that advertised their newest video or a live performance. I bought every magazine with contained their photographs. YouTube was not around back then, but if it was, I am sure I would have used every keyword to find any video uploaded about them. A band of five talented and hot guys, Kevin was my favorite, though most girls loved Nick the most.

Their Millennium World Tour launched in February of 2000. It was making a stop in Greensboro, MY TOWN, on MY 24th BIRTHDAY! I HAD to see them! I had one problem, though. A BIG one…. my boyfriend was not a fan. My older self knows this fact should have made no difference in my ability to see them perform. However, I lived with a practicing musician and Master’s Degree student of music who thought their electronic beats were a disgrace and a threat to his field. He got upset with me whenever I tried to convince my boyfriend to see my viewpoint. He said he wanted to take me out on my birthday. According to him, my birthday was a night for him to show me a good time, not my favorite band in the world. Plus, he said, he did not have any money to buy me a ticket. I was balancing a full-time job and graduate school during this time so that I could have bought my ticket and seen them by myself, but that would have insulted him. This relationship was entirely about my boyfriend’s needs, comfort, and power.

Several weeks passed since I pleaded to buy tickets to the Backstreet Boys concert. I had to drop the subject so as not to trigger my boyfriend into another argument. The evening of my birthday arrived, and I hoped he was going to surprise me with tickets, but he took me to T.G.I. Friday’s restaurant for dinner. We shared the restaurant with scores of fellow young female diners dressed in Backstreet Boys shirts eating dinner before the concert. My heart sank, but I tried to keep my spirits lifted so I would not hurt my boyfriend’s. My boyfriend paid for dinner, which in itself was a gift as he usually insisted on splitting the cost of our meals when eating out. To finish the meal, he arranged for a free birthday ice cream sundae with the waitress. I thanked him for the delicious food, and he gave me my gift at our apartment: a birthday card and an iron. Yes, an iron to smooth wrinkles out of my clothes. While I did need an iron, it was not exactly my idea of a birthday gift. My boyfriend felt disappointed in himself that it was not a romantic gift. Still, I cooed over it, so his disappointment would be replaced with pride. I, in turn, avoided an argument that would have evolved into a screaming match by him.

Fifteen months later, in May 2001, I married my boyfriend. One would describe our wedding day as perfect. I had a princess dress, the church looked amazing, my entire family attended, and we danced into the night at a large party venue. I left him two years later on August 8, 2003, the scariest day of my life. The self-centered behavior he showed during our courtship had evolved into hours long irrational screaming events triggered by seemingly ordinary events. His unpredictable behavior resulted in me hiding my true feelings about all matters and functioning for survival. I, in turn, lived each day confused about what a marital partnership should be. Wasn’t he supposed to be my best friend? Did I do something to deserve this treatment? During our separation, I reflected that the longer I had stayed with him during his self-centered periods, the more reinforcement I had provided him. Despite my telling him that I did not like his behavior, my staying with him said otherwise. Actions truly speak louder than words. I was afraid to leave him when we dated since we lived together, and I had to face the shame of having been a single woman who lived with her boyfriend. I knew he could not afford an apartment of his own. I felt responsible for him.

I hear of women today putting their needs aside for the sake of peace in their relationships. These same women do all of the work in their relationship: planning dates, paying for things, doing the chores, and so on. These women do not feel joy nor any genuine love connection to their partners. Still, they settle for these partners as they have decided any tolerable relationship is better than no relationship. I call these partners, “Mr. Good Enough.” Women spend years with these partners hoping that one-day, things will change for the better.

In some cases, they do, but it takes mutual effort and seeing the need for change. I believe these women are in love with the idea of having a partner than loving their actual partners. If you can relate, please ask yourself if putting in the mutual effort for improvement feels essential. If it does, begin the process by talking to your partner in private. Tell him or her you believe things can be better and more dynamic between the two of you. Then, find a counselor or spiritual advisor to speak to and learn some tips on how to better understand each other’s needs, which are always more than the essential requirements for food and shelter! The road to relational recovery could be short and straight or long and hilly. Still, each individual will likely learn valuable lessons about themselves and each other. The work is often worth it!

If you do not feel safe with your partner, honor those feelings as well. Do not dismiss them! Please speak to a counselor or spiritual advisor by yourself to validate if your observations are signs of abuse. It may be that leaving your partner is the only healthy outcome. If this is the case, your counselor can guide you into steps to take to exit safely. Lean into trustworthy friends and family who can assist you with your safe departure. For me, I leaned into God heavily, so His Holy Spirit could be my lamp to show me the steps I needed to take. There are many books available to help identify if you are in a relationship with a narcissistic abuser. These books also advise how to get out. You may find them in this terrific article by Stacy Brookman here.

Reader, have you ever been in a relationship with a self-centered individual? If so, how did your relationship evolve? On the contrary, had you rather be alone or with a Mr. or Ms. Good Enough?